Science began in Asia Minor. This included the islands and coastal region of what is now part of Turkey. This area first saw an influx of peoples from Asia; then, in the 7th Century BC, a large number of Greeks moved from the mainland to this region, now known as Ionia. This new society of mixed Greeks and “barbarians” settled the islands, the coastline territories, and created ten small cities which formed a loose confederation.
Ionia was famous for the development of construction, metal work, new tools and processes, and scientific medicine. This innovation was possible as the dominant imperial political forces of Egypt and Mesopotamia had withdrawn, taking with them their hierarchical political systems and centralized state religion.
Thales – 624 – 546 BC lived in Miletis and is seen as the first Greek philosopher, a mathematician, astronomer, and naturalist. He predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC. A materialist, he proposed that water was the source of all life in the universe.
Anaximander-- 610 – 546 BC lived in Miletus. A colleague of Thales, he searched for an explanation of the origin of the universe, asserted that there were laws that determined the real world, and they were not due to gods. He wrote on astronomy, geometry and geography.
Anaximenes – 585 – 528 BC The third celebrated scientist also lived in Miletis. A naturalist, he tried to discern the origin of the Earth and the universe. He rejected the view of the idealists, that it was due to the gods or a supreme being.
Heraclitus – 504-- 480 BC Born at Ephesus, he is not normally seen as a member of the Ionic philosophers. But he was a materialist, who argued that the world and universe were not created by a god but had always existed. He is best known for insisting that change is a constant reality, probably because of the unity of opposites. The universe moves in one direction, but humans see little change.
Anaxagoras – 500 – 428 BC Born at Clazomenae, he is noted for his astronomy. He moved to Athens where he lived for thirty years. A naturalist and materialist philosopher, he argued that the sun was composed of red hot minerals. In 467 BC a large meteorite broke off the sun, was widely seen, and landed in Trace. When it cooled people found it was hard rock similar to that found on Earth. He also insisted that the Milky Way was nothing more than a collection of many stars.
In Athens, he was a good friend of Pericles. In 450 he was charged by a high court for impiety. He was convicted and ostracised – forced to go into exile.
Democritus --460 – 370 BC Born at Abdera, Thrace. Taught by Leucippus he supported the atomic theory identified with the Greek materialist philosophers. He conducted many experiments with nature. He believed that most humans did not have the capacity to understand materialist philosophy; they were more easily impressed by prominent figures who advocated for religious ideology.
Epicurus: The Most Important Materialist Philosopher
Epicurus was born at Samos in Ionia in 341 BC. He studied philosophy and at age 30 moved with his followers to Athens. He established his school, known as The Garden. But it stood in contrast to the schools for the male oligarchs created by Plato and Aristotle. Epicurus was a democrat, and The Garden was open to women, foreigners and slaves. It also was home to an assortment of animals.
Little remains of his work, as his writings were systematically destroyed by Christian authorities. Diogenes Laertius (ca 200 AD) lists many titles. His major work, On Nature, consisted of 37 books (hand written scrols) He also wrote many brief summaries –popular versions.
The best source of his philosophy is seen as the long poem created by the Roman poet, Lucretius, On Nature, dated sometime in the first century BC. There was a broad popular movement in Italy, an Epicurean movement that greatly concerned the Roman ruling class, who were an oligarchy of large land owners whose agriculture was based on slave labour. It is also known that all around the Mediterranean area there were co-operative communities of his followers that existed for hundreds of years until destroyed by Christian Rome.
The universe has always existed as it is today. It consists of matter and void. It is important to recognise that “nothing can be created from nothing.” The universe is infinite: it does not have an edge and has no limit. It consists of matter-- composed of atoms – and the void in which matter moves. Because atoms and space are infinite, a number of worlds like our Earth are likely to exist with similar life.
How can we determine scientific truth? We must depend on our senses: We should not allow abstract reason to override what our senses tell us. All reason depends on our senses; when the senses are in agreement this guarantees their reliability.
Atoms have different qualities of size, mass and shape. They are indestructible. Democratis argued that atoms move downward in the void in a strait line. But Epicurus argued if this were the case human beings would not have free choice. But we see that humans and other animals have free will. Therefore atoms must have the ability to swerve.
Men believe that the celestial bodies are divine, and based on religious myths anticipate eternal suffering after death. To find freedom from such fears we must trust our feelings and sense perceptions. Peace of mind will only come when freed from these myths. We need to look for plausible explanations supported by evidence. We should be satisfied with what is seen to be probable based on our sense perception of facts and evidence. If gods exist, there is no evidence that they are involved in the lives of human beings.
Humans and all animals seek pleasure and try to avoid pain. Humans should seek good health and peace of mind. Seek a simple and plain life. Prudence should be our guide. Self sufficiency should be a goal. Seeking a rich life and sexual love can only bring anxiety. A wise man is one who is happy with little. What is most important is having good friends. Happiness comes to those who are able to put aside religious myths and pursue natural philosophy.
The rules for a just life did not come from religious myths but through utilitarian experience. Natural justice was a product of human beings who made a compact among themselves to prevent injury and to promote mutual well being. There is no such thing as justice in the abstract.
There are four basic rules to follow to relieve human anxiety:
(1)There are no divine beings that pose a threat to human beings.
(2) There is no life after death.
(3) What we need to survive in this life is easy to attain.
(4) The pain we may experience does not last very long.
Religious authorities were shocked by the argument that there was no afterlife. But Epicurus argued that once dead there is no sense perception. We already know what it will be like not to exist: what was it like before we were born?
All living things have a soul. It is the spark of life when life begins and disappears with death. The soul is enclosed in the living body; in human beings and animals it is responsible for sense-perception. When the soul departs with death so does sense-perception.
Medicine in Greece was practiced by materialists
Hippocrates, 460 – 380 BC
It is not surprising that medicine in Greece was developed in Ionia. It is usually identified with Hippocrates of Kos. The Ionian doctors used the five human senses to examine their patients. Their environment was analyzed. They examined what kind of work they did. They compared their patients with others with similar issues. The classic On Ancient Medicine was produced in the fifth century BC, the work of a number of doctors of this school. Hippocrates, seen as the most important and influential of the group, completely rejected the “medicine” practised by the idealists, who claimed illnesses were caused by the Greek gods.
Summary: The Core Values of Greek Democracy
Aristotle and his students studied the constitutions of all the Greek city states that had some form of democracy. He summarized the key features of Greek democracy:
(1) All citizens were to vote in elections and directly participate in the process. All citizens were expected to actively participate in the Assembly.
(2) Any citizen could hold an official office. The preferred method of selection was by lot –not election.
(3) There were no property requirements for holding office.
(4) A citizen should not hold the same office twice (except for the military officers, who were elected).
(5) The terms for holding an office should be short to allow broad participation.
(6) Judicial functions should be exercised by all citizens.
(7) The Assembly should be the final authority on all matters.
(8) There should be payment for all services.
(9) Democracy is the opposite of oligarchy/aristocracy and normally is rule by the common people.
It is not hard to discover that there are very few examples of Greek democracy to be found in the entire world in modern times. A couple of the Swiss Cantons still have Assemblies where citizens make political decisions.
The best example in modern times was the Paris Commune of 1871, which lasted for only two months until it was crushed by the French and German armies. At the time Karl Marx wrote that the Paris Commune form of democracy would be the model of government after the socialist revolution by the working class. But the Greek experiment in democracy also demonstrated that it could exist only as long as it was not destroyed by stronger forces from larger and more powerful anti-democratic countries.
The key principle of democracy is the acceptance of the equal value of all members of a society. Once liberal individualism is introduced and accepted, radical change is inevitable, given the fact that human beings have unequal abilities. Society will move to an unequal hierarchical model, which is the norm today.